Sunday, April 4, 2010

How to fall

What to write about first in a blog about songwriting in NYC...?

About a month ago, one of my guitar students invited me for a weekend of skiing. Even though I’m from Wisconsin (and we take our snow seriously!)- I’d never been skiing before. Although I was eager to ski down the hill, the first thing I learned was how to fall. “If you ever feel like you’re careening out of control, or you panic, just fall,” my student and his wife taught me.

At first- I fell like I would normally- with my hands out in front of me- ready to catch myself if I lost my balance. Nope. I learned that although this felt safe, it was was actually more dangerous than I imagined. I had to learn to take a nice fall on my side, and let the cushiony snow catch me- not my hands and wrists that were easier to break. At first- I was afraid to let myself sprawl out on the snow, but after my first successful fall- I had a great laugh. What surprised me was that it didn’t hurt- gravity didn’t suddenly shift to let me rollercoaster down the mountain- I was caught in a puff of soft snow and took a moment on the ground to enjoy my laugh, and how serene the mountain range surrounding me was. I saw snowflakes like the kind they hang in store windows during Christmas- perfect six-veined crystals that stayed on my glove for just a second before melting.

Maybe that’s the first thing that musicians should learn. Maybe before we even hum a note, we should learn how to fall. Not how to fall in what we think is a controlled way, the kind that ultimately leaves us with our creative wrists broken- or imagine that we can somehow avoid falling by just working hard enough or with the right people…but to freefall onto all the pages and make a great big mess- trusting that writing a few hours (or weeks or years) worth of just pure crap will leave us surprisingly safe, and hopefully with a good laugh. (I once met a famous guitarist who told me that he woke up after five years of playing what he thought was just bad music in a tiny cafĂ©, and went on to become a world-class player…after he told me the story, he let out a good one, straight from his belly).

As I stare at a blank page of manuscript this morning- I’m going to trust that making a few nice big “mistakes” in my writing might actually get me off to a quicker start, and by far a more enjoyable one that trying to avoid the inevitable (failing).

Instead of fighting this slope, I’m going to let it catch me. If you happen to be staring at a blank page yourself, feel free to tumble along with me- laughter is best shared together.